Stadalsky: Scout refurbishes memorial marking tragedy
By Kris Stadalsky email@example.com March 18, 2013 9:20AM
The coal mine disaster memorial was erected in 1898. Eagle Scout Trevor McDaniel restored the monument and the surrounding property in Diamond. | submitted photo
Updated: April 19, 2013 6:03AM
February marked the 130th year since one of the worst coal-mining disasters in Illinois.
Midday on Feb. 16, 1883, near Braidwood along the Grundy-Will county line (now called Diamond) the east side of the Diamond coal mine owned by the Wilmington Coal Mine and Manufacturing Co. collapsed from the weight of melting snow and heavy rains.
Miners near the escape shaft made it to the surface. But the main passages quickly flooded and the weight of the water sealed off ventilation doors in the tunnels.
Seventy-four men and boys, some as young as 13 years old, lost their lives that day and many are still entombed in that ground.
Volunteers came from nearby mines to build a dam on the site to hold back the flow of water. They pumped water with steam pumps for 38 days. On March 25, they were able to get down the shaft and begin recovering bodies, but their efforts were cut short by the accumulation of debris, gas and falling rocks, according to GenDisasters.com.
The mine was sealed off several days later, leaving 46 bodies in the ground.
Newspaper articles from the time reported that wives and mothers knelt by the mine shaft praying for their husbands and sons to be saved. One woman bent down to grasp the hand of her husband who was carrying out his dead son, but he lost his footing, fell back into the mine and drowned.
Another woman whose husband and three sons perished “lost her reason,” (The Ticonderoga Sentinel, New York, March 2, 1883).
A monument was at the site in 1898 as a memorial to the victims. It is believed that those who didn’t make it out alive are in the area around the monument.
This past summer, Trevor McDaniel of Gardner, a Boy Scout with Godley Park District Troop 459, took on the project of revitalizing and restoring the monument as his Eagle project.
The monument was tarnishing and the landscaping around it was either dying or overgrown. The original sidewalk leading to it was chipped and broken. Not a fitting grave marker for the victims of the disaster.
First McDaniel spent time researching the mine disaster and looking through old photos. Then he went to work.
Bricks were ordered to replace the broken sidewalk and granite ones, each bearing the name and age of a person who died in the disaster, were laid among them.
McDaniel pulled weeds and re-landscaped the area around the monument. A new lamp was installed and an old unused telephone pole was removed to enhance the spot. He polished and shined the monument itself.
McDaniel did a wonderful job of restoring and rebuilding, said Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc.
“He did everything we had hoped for and more,” she said.
The research McDaniel did before starting his project gave him cause to think about how people lived and worked in the 1800s, he said. He was surprised to learn that boys younger than him worked down in the mines, and men as old as 60 and 70 did so as well.
“I can’t imagine myself going down in those conditions,” he said.
Now the monument is a place where the victims can be honored and remembered, Kernc said.
“It’s more than a resting place to those who perished,” Kernc said. “It’s something that honors their memory, it’s pretty and calming.”
Reach Kris Stadalsky at firstname.lastname@example.org.